August 3, 2016 — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) last week opted not to veto a measure (HB 156) imposing new restrictions on sexuality education, allowing the bill to become law without his signature, Rewire reports.
According to Rewire, the bill became law shortly after the release last week of a 2016 report by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, finding that 25 percent of sexuality education bills proposed this year aimed to undermine student rights or sexuality education curriculum, such as by "promoting misinformation and an [antiabortion-rights] agenda" (Knight Shine, Rewire, 7/29).
HB 156 addresses standardized testing as well as budget requirements and teacher training. In April, it was amended to include a "stripped-down" version of SB 89, a bill that would have prohibited school districts from obtaining instruction or course materials about sexuality or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from an "abortion services provider," among other things.
Under the amended HB 156, any curriculum, literature or materials related to sexuality education will be subject to school board approval, and only licensed teachers will be permitted to provide sexuality education instruction. The new law permits parents to opt their children out of activities, programs and testing. Schools will have to inform parents of sexuality education courses or activities two weeks in advance (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/10).
Law spurs concern
According to Rewire, educators, parents and advocates had called on Walker to veto the bill. Reproductive health advocates have urged the state to adopt comprehensive sexuality education, noting that the Alaska has the nation's highest rate of chlamydia, with a 2014 rate of 787.5 cases per 100,000 people. The state also reports a higher-than-average rate of teenage pregnancy.
Jessica Cler, public affairs manager in Alaska for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker's decision a "crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education."
She said Walker's "lack of action ... has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships."
Separately, Amy Jo Meiners, the state's 2016 Teacher of the Year, denounced the bill in a Twitter post, stating, "This will cause such a burden on teachers (and) our partners in health education, including parents (and) health (professionals)."
In an opinion piece last month, Anchorage parent Susan Reeves wrote, "There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education ... Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies" (Rewire, 7/29).